History 398 - Spring 2003

Technologies and Their Societies: Historical Perspectives

Third Essay - Final Exercise

Write an essay of about 2000 words on ONE of the following questions. Your answer should reflect your knowledge of the readings and lectures through the choice of appropriate examples to document and illustrate your argument. The essay is due by 3:00 PM, 19 May, in your preceptor's box in the History Office, 129 Dickinson Hall. Extensions may be granted only by an appropriate Dean or Director of Studies.  Be sure you sign the correct pledge as given below. Your signature affixed to this pledge attests that you have read and understand the provisions set forth in Academic Integrity at Princeton.  


In "Do Artifacts Have Politics?", Langdon Winner proposes several models of the ways in which technologies shape or reflect the politics of their societies.  How do those models help to analyze the politics of the automobile in Helen and Robert Lynds's Middletown and the politics of the Internet in Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace?  Be sure to use specific examples taken from both books.


Drawing widely from the lectures and readings in this course, write a history to accompany this photograph of a woman at work designing fabric on a computer at the Kalkstein Silk Mills in Paterson, NJ, in 1994.

N.B. A satisfactory answer to this question involves much more than the computer.

(click on picture to enlarge)


During the period covered by the first half of this course, "information" played little if any role in either the primary or the secondary sources. By the end of the course, "information" had become a concept, a technology, indeed a commodity of modern consumer society. Using specific examples from lectures, readings, and precept discussions, discuss how that happened.  What light does Lawrence Lessig shed on the question in Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace?


Using Lessig's Code along with the lectures and readings, address Langdon Winner's comment (made last month before a Congressional committee) that "The acceptance of any technology requires the building of a broad social coalition that agrees to support its introduction and use." ( Be sure to root your discussion in specific examples taken from several different periods covered by the course.


Ruth Schwartz Cowan observes in A Social History of American Technology (p. 150) that "Many Americans learned what it means to become embedded in a set of technological systems in the years between 1870 and 1920." Using course readings and lecture notes, discuss what Cowan means by her statement and how the notion of technological systems might be applied prior to 1870. Is the term "embedded" also an appropriate characterization of the relationships of Europeans and Americans with technology before 1870? What alternate characterizations might be useful? What help does Lawrence Lessig's Code and Other Laws of Cyberspace offer in thinking about this question?


"This paper represents my own work in accordance with University regulations."